Written by: Joe Hill
Synopsis: Once the righteous Ig had enjoyed the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned musician and younger brother of a rising late-night TV star, he had security, wealth, and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more—he had Merrin and a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.
But Merrin’s death damned all that. The only suspect in the crime, Ig was never charged or tried. And he was never cleared. In the court of public opinion in Gideon, New Hampshire, Ig is and always will be guilty because his rich and connected parents pulled strings to make the investigation go away. Nothing Ig can do, nothing he can say, matters. Everyone, it seems, including God, has abandoned him. Everyone, that is, but the devil inside. . . .
Now Ig is possessed of a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look—a macabre talent he intends to use to find the monster who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It’s time for a little revenge. . . . It’s time the devil had his due. . . .
"From small things, mama, big things one day come"
Oh you guys, this book is such a treat to read!
I am a big fan of Joe Hill. Not only does he come from a pretty stellar family (he's Stephen King's son) but he's also the writer of one of my absolute favourite graphic novel series, Locke and Key. And his novel-length fiction is just as engrossing as his graphic novels. He's a breath of fresh air. He clearly knows and respects the weight and history of the horror/supernatural genre and yet he never falls back on tired tropes or imagery. He's brilliant and this book is brilliant and life is brilliant... Too much?
I picked this one up after finishing the somewhat disappointing Gone Girl, and I was kind of amazed at how similar they are. I mean, they're totally not since this is a supernatural thriller and Gone Girl is a pretty traditional crime/neo-noir, but there are some real similarities in the plot and this one is SO MUCH BETTER. Both books are about a couple where the woman goes missing/is murdered, the husband/boyfriend is suspected, it turns out maybe the story of their relationship isn't quite as it seemed, the husband/boyfriend goes on a hunt for the real perpetrator to clear their name. But unlike Gone Girl which relied heavily on twists to count for character and narrative development, Horns is a gorgeously dark and human story that made you feel for the characters and invest in their story. It has a few twists, but they're not about swerving the story onto an unexpected trajectory, they're there to add a dimension to the story, to give you the final piece of the puzzle and to take the story to the satisfying conclusion it had been building towards.
The story follows Ig (or Iggy, short for Ignatius) a year after the rape and murder of his girlfriend Merrin. Ig was immediately suspected for the crime given his weak alibi (he was sleeping off a hangover in front of an abandoned Dunkin' Donuts) and the very big, very public fight they had the night before. And while a fire that decimated the evidence clears him officially, public opinion in their small town is that he (literally) got away with murder. So the book opens with Ig waking up with a blinding hangover and horns. Ig's first assumption is that they're a hallucination brought on by a tumor, but when he goes to show his housemate-kind-of-girlfriend and she spills a waterfall of secrets and insecurities he begins to piece together that these aren't just figments of a diseased mind.
This first part of the novel is especially phenomenal. As Ig gets more panicked and upset about his new accessories, he gets a glimpse into the minds of the people he thought loved and supported him. I won't spoil what they reveal exactly, but it's dark and absolutely heart-wrenching to see the pain and torment that Ig goes through as he realises he has no one and nowhere to turn. It isn't written as a dark and tormented story (or not overly so), but when I put it down to go to sleep that night I just felt unbelievably sad for Ig. He felt real and tangible and I just wanted to give him a hug and tell him it'll all be ok. He's so young, and he was so in love and happy and was due to fly to England to start his career the day after Merrin was murdered, and now his whole life is frozen. He can't start his career, he can't start a new relationship, he can't move on. He's stuck and is tormented by his loss and to find out that no one is on his side? So. Sad.
Using the power of the horns to try and avenge Merrin's murder, the book becomes equal parts badass revenge thriller, somewhat comical allegorical depiction of inner demons, and a sensitive portrayal of loss, love and turbulent life events. It covers so much ground, and yet it's such a contained and understated book. Or, I guess to put it another way, it's a much deeper and more thoughtful book hiding just under the surface of a contemporary supernatural thriller. Slotted within the primary narrative are two sections which take place in the character's past. The first is about the start of Ig and Merrin's relationship at 15 and the second I can't mention without spoiling the story, but it begins 6 weeks prior and leads up to Merrin's murder. Both are engaging and interesting and are when a lot of the twists are revealed, but both lasted maybe a smidge too long for me. I connected with current day Ig so much that if I was away from that section of the story too long I missed him, and I found myself rushing through to get back to the current day story. Which I guess is less a complaint about the back stories and more a double thumbs up to the engaging central story, but yes, that's a thing.
Sidebar; do you want to another reason why Joe Hill is the most awesome? If you read my Monday Links posts I linked to a buzzfeed post a couple of weeks ago about the connections that exist between Stephen King's books. Joe Hill, doing his dad proud no doubt, added some connections between his books and his dads. What!! For instance, a nice and easy one is a brief mention of Derry, a fictional town in Maine which has appeared in around 18 King stories and books. A second is more of an homage, but awesome nonetheless. In Horns Merrin's older sister died of an aggressive form of cancer at age 20. She became angry and nasty as her disease progressed and seemed to hate Merrin, which is undoubtedly a nod to the character Zelda in Pet Semetary, who is easily one of the scariest characters in any Stephen King books (seriously, I get scared just remembering her). So yep, Joe Hill is great. /sidebar
When I was about 40 pages from the end I contemplated putting the book down and walking away for awhile. I just wasn't ready to say goodbye to the story and all the characters. Of course I didn't put it down because I needed to know how it ended, but there was a brief tug-of-war where I considered it for like 20 seconds. But instead of feeling sad when I got to the end, I felt a sense of closure. It doesn't wrap up neatly or with an overly happy ending, but it was the right ending for the story and the characters and it felt good. *sigh* I just love this book SO MUCH and I can't recommend it enough. You all really, really, REALLY need to find a copy and read this book. If you were all having birthdays tomorrow I'd buy you all a copy and force you to read it immediately so we could all discuss how amazing it is and form the greatest Joe Hill fan club ever. Except I can't since I'm not a Rockefeller (is there a more modern rich person I should compare myself to here? Warren Buffet? Mitt Romney?)